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Awful days come and awful days go,
But none quite compare with Drew’s big fiasco.
Spasmotica shoes were his golden brainchild,
Until they lost millions. On him was blame piled,
And soon the whole shoe-wearing planet will know.
Death’s seeming attractive until someone dies,
His dad from Kentucky, beloved and wise.
Drew heads to Elizabethtown, as he must,
And on the plane there minor facts are discussed
With Claire, the attendant who talks when she flies.
Drew’s own distant relatives warmly welcome,
Although they can’t handle which state he is from.
While waiting for requisite grief to sink in,
He phone-chats with Claire of what is and has been,
And into the morning their ramblings come.
While everyone copes in their personal way,
Drew bonds more with Claire when she chooses to stay,
Yet he is too haunted by failure, it seems,
To move past the shoe and to chase other dreams,
Like family and romance he should not delay.
An off-beat memorial honors Drew’s dad,
So they take the road trip the two never had.
With lessons, directions, and music from Claire,
He spreads his dad’s memory all the way there
And finds life’s surprises too great to stay sad.

I first viewed Elizabethtown simply on the impulse to check out a movie most critics disliked, but I was pleasantly surprised that it instead became one of my favorites (so much so that my family visited the town on one of our road trips). A romantic comedy with some unusually dark overtones, Elizabethtown contains almost as much wit, heart, and romance as When Harry Met Sally…; in fact, I wouldn’t hesitate to call it the best rom com of the new millennium (so far).

Directed and written by Cameron Crowe, the film stars Orlando Bloom as depressed prodigal Drew Baylor and Kirsten Dunst as his garrulous romantic interest Claire. Bloom is at the top of his game, evoking a blend of sullen discomfort and awkward grief, like someone having such a bad week that he doesn’t know how to cope anymore. He doesn’t have any resentment toward his dad or the clichéd parental issues that he must resolve; instead, his father’s death serves as an opportunity to rekindle hope and conquer his own personal demons before they consume him. Another catalyst for this renewal is Dunst’s Claire, who was criticized for her superficial eccentricity and prompted the creation of the term “Manic Pixie Dream Girl.” While that stereotype pretty much sums her up, I fail to see why that’s a defect on the film’s part. She’s not nearly as pushy or insolent as Barbra Streisand in What’s Up, Doc?, and as angelic as she seems, her unrealistic outreaches never come off as contrived. It’s a movie; I’d like to believe that two people can fall in love over the phone!

Like When Harry Met Sally…, there are so many underrated scenes and lines that I find exceptionally classic: Drew’s insightful narration, his life-saving ringtone, his loss of direction trying to find town, the phone tag with three separate calls, his bizarrely emotional hallway exchange with Chuck the newlywed, the equally bizarre rendition of “Free Bird” at his dad’s memorial, his ramblings with Claire about the pronunciation of Louisville and “substitute people” and “the inimitable ‘them,’” and especially that epic educational video he shows his cousin’s out-of-control son. The many relatives he meets are the very definition of quirk (or perhaps the word is “whimsical”), including Paul Schneider as said cousin Jessie and famed Southern cook Paula Deen as Aunt Dora (in her only film role to date). Other great performances come from Susan Sarandon as Drew’s overwrought mother, Judy Greer as his ineffective sister, and Alec Baldwin as an unsympathetic shoe CEO.

One more reason to love Elizabethtown is the music. In addition to a folksy score by Cameron’s then-wife Nancy Wilson of the band Heart, it boasts one of my favorite soundtracks (which I had to buy), with tunes from Lindsey Buckingham, Elton John, Tom Petty, U2, and more, all of which complement each of their respective scenes (for example, “In the Name of Love” when Drew visits the motel where Martin Luther King, Jr., was shot). The result is a perfect example of editing and music placement.

Though the film yields to the cliché of romance inevitably leading to premarital sex and includes an unnecessary vulgar comedy sketch from Sarandon, the overall film is a beautiful and poignant reflection on success, failure, life, death, family, and the interplay among them all. The repeated symbolism of a bird on fire is subtly used to imply a crash-and-burn fiasco and perhaps a resurgent phoenix. Elizabethtown is a film for anyone who has ever lost a loved one, taken a nostalgic road trip, or met with defeat and risen again.

Best lines: (Ellen, Drew’s ex-girlfriend with a farewell line I’ve recycled myself) “Drew, it was real, and it was great, and it was really great.”
(Claire) “I’m impossible to forget, but I’m hard to remember.”
(Claire) “You want to be really great? Then have the courage to fail big and stick around. Make ’em wonder why you’re still smiling. That’s true greatness to me.”
VC’s best line: (Claire) “I will miss your lips and everything attached to them.”
Rank: 57 out of 60

© 2014 S. G. Liput

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